Banking on tech solutions to unclog Nairobi Traffic Jams

The city of Nairobi and its metropolitan suburbs have over the years continued to attract the dubious distinction of being one of the most congested cities in the world.

Various reports indicate that thanks to the prevailing city mobility challenges, the average travel time from one point to another is about 57 minutes.

For a growing city billed as the fastest growing sub-Sahara Africa business hub, such a metric and the attendant economic losses estimated at more than Kshs 50 million daily and Kshs 18.25 billion annually calls for a relook at traffic management for the city’s 1.5 million vehicles to address the prevailing problems.

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Undoubtedly, the main problems of traffic congestion in Nairobi include insufficient capacities such as lack of roads, parking slots and poor infrastructure operations, including reliance to obsolete traffic management equipment. Road traffic accidents are still serious with over 3,600 fatalities annually with a majority of these people being vulnerable road users – pedestrians, motorcyclists, and cyclists. 

The relook of Nairobi traffic problems should be a joint effort among several line agencies charged with the responsibility of keeping the people moving safely and efficiently. The solutions are also as diverse as one can imagine from improved road surfaces to aid in the motorised and non-motorised mobility, light rail systems, and bus rapid transport systems to the adoption of intelligent traffic management systems complete with a traffic management centre.

Suffice it to say that the integrated transport infrastructure should be efficient enough to ensure the safe and seamless mobility of goods and people.   

Technology provides a good platform that can allow us to learn from bigger cities that previously experienced similar challenges and effectively enables us to leapfrog to proven new generation solutions.

Over the years, an agency such as the Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) has executed its vision by delivering a safe and efficient urban road transport infrastructure. Reports indicate that KURA has constructed more than 200Kms of new roads, rehabilitated more than 190Kms, provided 36 bridges and interchanges, constructed 300km of pedestrian walkways, 450kms put under periodic maintenance and 9,797km of roads under routine maintenance.

Within Nairobi, the Country’s Road Asset has grown exponentially from Kshs. 200 Billion in 2009 to approximately Kshs 1 Trillion to date. Whereas we are not yet home and dry, the growth of our road assets has resulted in efficiency and ease of movement for both goods and services and increased access to key amenities and raw materials. 

Conscious of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), we need to move fast to adopt innovative solutions that can help keep us moving smoothly. Under SDG 9, on infrastructure, industrialisation and innovation, we are working to improve and safeguard the Nairobi urban societies through the building of resilient infrastructure, and fostering innovation.

Technology solutions can help support this goal by enabling access to information that, in turn, supports the management and optimisation of important global and local infrastructure, including transportation systems. Such ICT solutions also help to support SDG 9 goals to deliver resilient infrastructure by enabling connectivity between individuals and organisations and increasing productivity and efficient use of resources.

The Government of Kenya is already achieving this through the road network expansion of all roads to create connectivity and linkages across the road network. Another key intervention is the traffic management and control measures using Intelligent Transport Systems benchmarked against global best practice.

For example, we can borrow from the experience of the ITS in Seoul, South Korea, and several Indian cities that are a few times larger than Nairobi. These are cities that, as part of their smart city advances developed “traffic brains” to intelligently manage traffic lights, improve traffic flow and increase automated detection efficiency of traffic violations.

These ITS systems are powered by new technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), big data, cloud computing, and 5G, Intelligent Traffic Management Solutions provide traffic management with “Sharp Eyes” and a “Powerful Brain,” combined with greatly simplified Operations and Maintenance (O&M) that supports an ICT-enabled urban road environment we desire to achieve as part of the Big Four delivery agenda.

Undoubtedly, to achieve the Big Four Agenda, policymakers must remain alive to the fact that increased funding in the development of infrastructure will release the potential of the private sector leading to the achievement of the desired goals of the Big Four Agenda.

Improved road network and related infrastructure, including the ITS, will lead to improved security, access to basic amenities and improved productivity.

Mr Kandia is a trained Civil Engineer and Creative Director. Email: [email protected]

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